Every morning Juan Ariel and Alfredo Luis trek six kilometers (3.7 miles) across the Guatemalan countryside, making their way to Sibacá, a rural community outside of Chinique. They navigate steep terrain and an uneven road that is nearly impossible to pass during the rainy season, for one reason: to teach.
Together with Angel Zaqueno and Moris Dany, Juan and Alfredo run Sibacá 1, a primary school that is creating positive change not only in the health and hygiene habits of the students at the school, but also their parents and families.
When Juan took over the school 14 years ago, students from all grades gathered in one room. The building couldn’t withstand the elements, and the kids were always sick.
“The kids came to school in dirty clothes and bodies,” Juan explains. “Their nails were long and they were constantly spreading bacteria.”
In 2012, Water For People and the municipal government supported the construction of new toilets and hand-washing stations at the school, and provided hygiene education for the faculty and students.
Today, the multi-room schoolhouse is filled with 70 healthy students eager to share the importance of clean hands, safe water, and proper sanitation. They take turns teaching their peers about the importance of hygiene, and pride themselves in keeping the schools bathrooms as “white as milk.”
In a community where hygiene was never a priority, Juan and his team are finding ways to get families involved by encouraging students to bring what they learn in the classroom back home.
Parents also support the school’s day-to-day operations. Not only do they come in and prepare lunch for the students, but they also play an integral part in the maintenance of the school’s water and sanitation infrastructure. If something breaks the parent-teacher committees fix it, and each family contributes 28 Quetzales (roughly $3.50 USD) every month towards a maintenance fund.
Rural schools like Sibacá 1 exemplify what it means to reach Everyone. Juan and his team shared that before collaborating with Water For People they felt “abandoned,” no organizations or institutions came to assist them because they were too far away, and too difficult to reach.
They say the decision to focus on the hardest to reach in Guatemala is easy: “These kids are the future of our country,” Moris explains. “And now they are growing up with good habits.”
Fueled by the community’s pride and commitment to sanitation infrastructure, we are hopeful that water will keep running, toilets will keep flushing, and hands will keep being washed at this school for many years to come.